Panasonic RB-M700 review: Subwoofers for your head
“If only the RB-M700’s other features were as good as their monumental bass.”
- Very comfortable
- Incredibly powerful bass
- Perfect for movies
- Mediocre ANC
- Short battery life
- Not great for calls
If wireless, active noise canceling (ANC) headphones are what you seek, there’s certainly no shortage of choice right now. Models start well under $100 and range as high as $600 or more, and there are dozens and dozens to pick from. But if what you really want is a set of wireless ANC headphones that deliver massive amounts of deep, skull-shaking bass, Panasonic’s $180 RB-M700, which feature a unique “bass reactor” device, deserve your full attention.
Here’s our full review.
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The RB-M700 (available in a satin-finish black or beige) take their design inspiration from one of the best headphones on the planet: The Sony WH-1000XM3. The RB-M700 echo the Sony in several key ways, from the headband with its integrated metal adjustment sliders, to the earcup pivots which blend seamlessly into both the headband and the earcups for a very smooth look.
Place them side-by-side and those similarities are even more obvious, except for one thing: The massive, round earcups and earcushions on the Panasonics.
Their size and shape are the only visual cue that these are not like any other wireless headphones.
I happily wore the RB-M700 for several hours without a trace of discomfort.
A circle of tiny vents rim the diameter of the outer earcups, making them look like they were lifted from a vintage Braun hairdryer.
The comparison isn’t purely cosmetic. Those vents, as with the ones on the Braun, are there to help with the movement of air, something that comes in handy when you’re dealing with big bass sound.
Those big, puffy ear cushions look comfy, and they are. I happily wore the RB-M700 for several hours without a trace of discomfort, even though at 11.2 ounces, they’re heavier than a lot of over-the-ear wireless headphones.
There are two minor trade-offs for all of this comfort. First, they feel a little less secure on your head. The headband provides a decent amount of clamping force, but it can’t keep those huge ear pillows from shifting slightly when you move your head quickly.
Personally, it didn’t bother me at all, but if you’re hoping to bring the RB-M700 and their giant bass to the gym, be prepared to have to re-adjust them fairly often.
Second, they look huge on your head, especially when seen from the front or the back. Sci-fi fans will no doubt see the resemblance to Princess Leia’s double-pastry hairdo from Episode 4, as well as to the Cybermen from Doctor Who.
Those with smaller heads will be happy to know that even though these cans look big, the minimum adjustment on the headband is actually quite small. For a white male who’s 5 feet, 8 inches tall, I have a ridiculously small head. Most headphones only fit me at their smallest adjustment, and yet I had to expand the headband a bit to get the earcups to sit at the right level.
Controls and ease-of-use
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All of the controls for the RB-M700 are on the right earcup. It’s a simple and straightforward layout that uses a three-button cluster for all of the major functions like power, volume, track-skipping, call answer/end, and voice assistant access.
Unfortunately, the edges of the middle button aren’t well defined, making it a bit hard to find quickly.
ANC is controlled via a two-way on/off switch — there are no adjustment levels for the amount of noise cancellation and no transparency mode for letting outside sounds in.
Near the bottom of the right earcup is a two-button rocker control for adjusting the bass reactor feature. It offers three levels of bass enhancement, plus an off level. What’s strange is that the plus and minus buttons are arranged in the opposite direction to the volume buttons, which makes it counterintuitive to use. Every time I thought I was increasing the reactor effect, I ended up reducing it. You get used to it, but it’s a weird choice.
The RB-M700 don’t have a wear sensor, so you’ll have to pause your music manually before taking them off.
Battery and charging
With only 20 hours of operation on a full charge (and that’s assuming the bass reactor feature is disabled, with ANC turned on), the RB-M700 won’t win any endurance awards when compared to other wireless headphones, but it’s still more than enough time for a full day of work, plus a commute, and even a trip to the gym or the store.
Charging specs on these cans are also somewhat lackluster as far as wireless headphones go. They use USB-C, and it takes four hours to fully charge. A 15-minute fast-charge option will give you an hour and a half of playtime when you’re running low.
The much cheaper Taotronics TT-BH060, for instance, last 30 hours on a charge and a five-minute rapid charge gives you two hours of playtime.
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Noise cancellation on the RB-M700 is mediocre. Constant, droning sounds like fans, which are usually the easiest for ANC headphones to contend with, are reduced by about half their normal volume — certainly a welcome improvement — however, Panasonic’s ANC circuitry introduces a very noticeable amount of hiss at the same time.
If you’re looking for ANC headphones to provide you with peace and quiet in noisy environments without playing music, I think you’ll tire of the hissing sound quickly.
Panasonic’s ANC circuitry introduces a very noticeable amount of hiss.
Curiously, the RB-M700 do much better with ANC while playing music.
Activating ANC even at moderate volume levels appears to alter the EQ, making bass and middle frequencies more pronounced, while de-emphasizing the higher frequencies.
While this doesn’t do much for overall sound quality, it helps to offset that ANC hiss, which is mostly a high-frequency sound.
I have a feeling that it’s not so much Panasonic’s ANC technology that’s to blame for the so-so noise reduction as much as it’s the design of the RB-M700 earcups.
Those circular vents which let air move in and out of the earcups presumably let external sounds in too. Because ANC effectiveness relies on good sound isolation, there’s probably a hard limit to just how good ANC can ever be on a set of headphones that lets in so much sound.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends
Most headphones these days are designed with some kind of hinge or pivot system which lets them fold up, fold flat — or both — to make storage easier for traveling. The RB-M700 are the fold-flat variety, with earcups that twist inward 45 degrees.
The flatter profile makes it easier to slide these headphones into an available backpack slot, but they will still take up a considerable amount of space.
Panasonic doesn’t provide a hard or soft shell travel case, so you’ll have to take care when stowing them.
What’s odd about the fold-flat design is that it only works when you’re not wearing the RB-M700. In other words, when worn around your neck, the earcups only pivot a small amount, and can’t lie flat against your collar bones.
Calls on the RB-M700 were acceptable, but only in quiet environments. The moment my voice had to compete with other sounds, like traffic, wind, or even nearby birdsongs, it became much harder for my caller to hear me.
Without a transparency mode, it was harder to hear my own voice through the earcups.
In other words, make calls on these headphones if you must, but don’t expect a great call quality.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends
So the RB-M700 may not have great ANC, or battery life, or even portability. But they do one thing really well: They can generate an unbelievable amount of low-end bass, and thanks to their bass reactor mechanism, that bass can be calibrated all the way from warm to wowza.
Panasonic doesn’t discuss the technical aspects of the bass reactor (which is also available in the step-down $150 RB-M500 headphones) but from what I can discern via the company’s marketing material, it’s a separate component that acts much like a subwoofer would in a home theater.
Fans of EDM, rap, and hip-hop will love the club-level vibrations that pound through your skull.
Because it’s separate from the RB-M700’s 40mm drivers, you get much cleaner low-frequency sound, which doesn’t detract from overall sound quality at all.
At their lowest enhancement setting, the bass reactors deliver a subtle extra oomph, which compliments most music genres and takes the already impressive bass response of the headphones and amps it up.
Levels two and three, however, are another story entirely. These settings are not for jazz or classical lovers, but fans of EDM, rap, and hip-hop will love the club-level vibrations that pound through your skull. Plenty of headphones claim to let you “feel” the music, but with the RB-700, it isn’t just empty marketing language, they’re the real deal.
Perhaps more than any other headphones I’ve tried, the RB-700 are made for movies. Crank up the bass reactors to level three and then fire up the fight scene between Thanos and The Hulk in the opening sequence of Avengers: Infinity War and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Every punch, every body slam, and every explosion creates a sonic concussion you simultaneously hear and feel. The bass reactors move so much air, you can feel it trying to escape the confines of the earcups.
As awesome as this subwoofer-for-your-head effect is, I was equally surprised by just how balanced the RB-700 are when you disengage the bass reactors and simply use them for enjoying music.
Without a smartphone app, there’s no way to change their EQ, but as long as you enjoy a sound that leans toward bass, I don’t think that’s a problem. They do a decent, if not quite stellar job, of separating the mids from the highs and the soundstage is pleasingly wide.
The bass-driven signature keeps everything sounding warm and full, but it can also detract somewhat from genres the benefit from more precision like acoustic guitar, folk-rock, jazz, and classical.
They sound good, but at $180 they’re overpriced. It’s clear that Panasonic thinks the bass reactor feature is worth the extra money.
Though ANC and travel-worthiness may not be their strong suit, and battery life is only ho-hum, the very comfy Panasonic RB-700 deliver astonishing levels of bass you can feel, making them the ideal companion for movies and music genres that usually require a club setting to be fully appreciated.
Is there a better alternative?
If bigger-than-life bass is your jam, look no further. We’ve never seen a set of headphones that crush low-end like this.
But given the RB-700’s drawbacks in some other areas, you should check out our full list of the best noise-canceling headphones for models that offer better ANC, better overall sound quality, and in some cases, a better price.
How long will they last?
The RB-700 come with a one-year warranty from Panasonic. They’re well-built and made from decent materials, but the lack of a hard shell carry case or a soft travel bag could mean a shorter lifespan if you don’t take care to keep them from harm while stowed in your bag.
Should you buy them?
Only serious bass-heads who want to feel every low-end note (and then some) should consider the Panasonic RB-700. Their ANC won’t wow you, but the bass sure will. For everyone else, you’ll find a better balance of features from the competition.